Gala honours trailblazers, raises funds for UWI students

Gala honours trailblazers, raises funds for UWI students

April 12, 2018

Internationally renowned education thought leader Dr. Avis Glaze has received many accolades during a distinguished career.

She was however extremely emotional about the University of the West Indies (UWI) Vice-Chancellor’s award bestowed on her last Saturday night at the ninth annual sold-out Toronto Benefit gala.

Glaze was the only graduate to be recognized at the event that provides scholarships for UWI students.

“I have received many awards, but this one stands out because it is as if I have come full circle and I am now back home,” she said. “I consider this the greatest honour of all.”

With its very high academic standards, Glaze said UWI provided her with the knowledge, skills and attitudes to be able to compete with confidence with anyone anywhere.

“I am so happy I had my beginnings there,” she pointed out.

In 1974, Glaze came to Canada on a student visa to pursue graduate studies at the University of Toronto.

“That year, the savings I had for my education were dramatically reduced when the Jamaican dollar was devalued,” said the former York Region District School Board (YRDSB) associate director of education and superintendent and director of education with the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board. “Therefore, I have great appreciation for the benefits of scholarships such as yours that provide for so many students because I had to become resourceful to continue my education.”

Since its inception in 2010, the UWI Toronto gala has provided scholarships for nearly 400 students.

Glaze, Ontario’s first chief student achievement officer and chief executive of the literacy and numeracy secretariat where she played a key role in improving student achievement in the province’s schools prior to becoming Ontario’s Education Commissioner and senior adviser to the Minister of Education, said the UWI Toronto Benefit gala committee objectives align with three of her beliefs as an educator.

“You help students exceed their perceived potential regardless of demographic circumstances, you recognize that students must never be denied the opportunity to be educated to the maximum extent possible and that we all have a responsibility to lift others as we climb,” she said. “You harness the power of civil society and contribute to nation building and Canada’s prosperity. You embody public service in action.”

Other Vice-Chancellor’s award winners were Dr. Victor Blanchette and Dr. Michael Pollanen.

Dr. Victor Blanchette

Dr. Victor Blanchette

“This award has special meaning not only because I am a proud Barbadian, but also because my late uncle Sir Roy Marshall was a UWI vice-chancellor,” said Blanchette who is the co-chair of the Caribbean SickKids Paediatric Cancer & Blood Disorders Project (CSPCBDP) launched in 2012 to assist with the building of health care capacity in Jamaica, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago and the Bahamas by training health care professionals, providing consultation and diagnostic expertise and developing and expanding access to treatment and supportive care.

Marshall, who served as the university’s third vice-chancellor from 1969 to 1974, passed away three years ago.

Pollanen is the province’s chief forensic pathologist and deputy chief coroner in Ontario.

He was a member of the forensic pathology observation mission in Jamaica eight years ago following the Tivoli Incursion that led to the deaths of about 70 civilians.

“My journey to this position right now started with the Tivoli Incursion,” said Pollanen who is an associate professor of laboratory medicine and pathobiology and an associate member of the School of Graduate Studies at the University of Toronto. “At that time when we did the human rights response with forensic pathology, it became apparent that Jamaica was in a remarkable position to grow, strengthen and develop its forensic medical capacity and that UWI was going to be the main focal point of that activity.”

Through a landmark $2 million gift by the Raymond Chang Foundation led by Brigitte Chang-Addorisio and her brother Andrew Chang, a forensic pathology fellowship was set up three years ago at the University of Toronto’s department of laboratory medicine & pathobiology. The foundation has made an additional $2.25 million donation to help the program grow.

It’s the first global fund that enables young physicians from the Caribbean and other developing countries to train and strengthen forensic capacity in their countries.

Pollanen administers the fellowships that have trained three UWI graduates – Dr. Althea Neblett, Dr. Natasha Richards and Dr. Trudy-Ann Brown – who have returned to Jamaica and are building forensic pathology from the ground level.

“They will be the pioneers of forensic pathology in Jamaica and the Caribbean,” he noted. “It is only through strengthening forensic pathology that we will be able to protect human rights and those people who are most vulnerable in society.”

In 2007, Pollanen provided testimony in the coroner’s inquest into the death of Pakistan cricket coach Bob Woolmer who was found unconscious in his hotel room in Jamaica a day after his team was eliminated from the World Cup. He was pronounced dead shortly after arrival at the Kingston Public Hospital.

A pathology report indicated that Woolmer died of ‘manual strangulation’.

Pollanen, however, ruled out strangulation as the cause of death, but admitted under cross-examination that a foreign substance was detected in Woolmer’s body.

A jury in Jamaica recorded an open verdict on Woolmer's death after deciding that there was insufficient evidence of either a criminal act or natural causes.

In the past few weeks, Pollanen has been working tirelessly on the case of serial killer’s Bruce MacArthur who has been charged with six counts of first degree murder.

“This particular case has challenged the Ontario Forensic Pathology Service and we have used a multi-disciplinary approach to try and find the truth behind what’s happened,” he said at a press conference at Toronto Police headquarters last month. “…This is the most unique investigation in the history of our organization.”

Brigitte Chang-Addorisio (l), Donette Chin-Loy Chang (second from right) and Dr. Richard Bernal (r) with award recipients Dr. Michael Pollanen, Dr. Victor Blanchette, Dr. Avis Glaze, Masai Ujiri, Susan Rice and Mehdat Mahdy.

Brigitte Chang-Addorisio (l), Donette Chin-Loy Chang (second from right) and Dr. Richard Bernal (r) with award recipients Dr. Michael Pollanen, Dr. Victor Blanchette, Dr. Avis Glaze, Masai Ujiri, Susan Rice and Mehdat Mahdy.

Luminary, Chancellor’s and G. Raymond Chang Awards are awarded annually at the fundraiser.

Susan Rice, the former United States national security adviser and ambassador to the United Nations during Barack Obama’s presidential administration, was the Luminary Award recipient. Her maternal grandparents migrated to America from Jamaica in the early 1940s.

“They were fiercely proud of their West Indian heritage and determined to seek greater opportunities for their family,” she said. “With minimal schooling and only being able to obtain menial labour, they deemed education critical to social and economic progress in their adopted country and stopped at nothing to provide that for their children. Through hard work, sacrifice and pure Jamaican resourcefulness, they were able to send four sons and one daughter – my mother – to America’s top colleges where they each excelled and then built successful careers.

“The bottom line is as clear now as it was then. There’s no better substitute for higher education as key to achieving one’s personal and professional dreams. This is the lesson my parents and grandparents taught me and I and my husband, in turn, have strived to teach our own children…I am also very pleased to support the mission of UWI as a living example of exactly what is possible through the power of education.”

The holder of Master’s and PhD degrees in international relations from Oxford University where she was a Rhodes Scholar, Rice – a former management consultant with McKinsey & Company in Toronto -- is married to Canadian-born television producer Ian Cameron.

With the Toronto Raptors being the National Basketball Association (NBA) Eastern Conference champions for the first time in the franchise’s 23-year history, president and general manager Masai Ujiri was relaxed and in an upbeat mood as he accepted the G. Raymond Chang Award.

He started the Giants of Africa organization that conducts basketball camps in African countries during the month of August.

“You don’t always have to do something big and great to stand out,” said Ujiri who, in 2010, became the first African-born NBA general manager. “Do something that impacts another person’s life. Do something that makes a difference. We can’t all build hospitals and change the world.”

Ujiri, who enjoys living in Toronto because of its diversity, promised that the Raptors will win.

A former UWI Toronto Benefit gala patron along with his wife Donette Chin-Loy Chang, Raymond Chang died four years ago.

The Chancellor’s Award was presented to the YMCA of Greater Toronto.

Mehdat Mahdy

Mehdat Mahdy

President and chief executive officer Medhat Mahdy accepted the honour on behalf of the organization that has been around for 164 years.

“We are humbled by this award,” he said. “We have a very rigorous and intense focus on social inclusion. We are in 438 locations across the Greater Toronto Area and we touch the lives of almost 500,000 people annually.”

Scotiabank is the event's lead sponsor.

New UWI chancellor Robert Bermudez, pro vice-chancellor Dr. Richard Bernal, Cave Hill principal Dr. Eudine Barriteau and Mary Beckles, the wife of vice-chancellor Dr. Hilary Beckles, attended the gala.

Counting among its graduates several heads of government, late Nobel laureate Derek Walcott and a myriad of distinguished leaders and professionals, UWI has contributed the most to the intellectual, cultural, social and economic development of the English-speaking Caribbean in the latter half of the 20th century.

The UWI was established 70 years ago as the University College of the West Indies (UCWI) in a special relationship with the University of London. The university has provided thousands of scholarships since it opened with 23 male and 10 female students who began their academic journey in wooden huts in Jamaica that once housed war refugees from Gibraltar and Malta.

Mother's challenge paid off for successful doctor

Mother's challenge paid off for successful doctor

UWI student breaks down in tears as he thanks Toronto donors

UWI student breaks down in tears as he thanks Toronto donors